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My Cat: My Friend?
September 17, 2013  //  By:   //  Science  //  No Comment

A cat has great qualities, soft fur, an ability to learn and to be affectionate. But, a cat is not a truly domesticated animal but a wild hunter at heart. Very few are intentionally bred and you could never teach a cat to guard a house or to round up sheep. Wild cats are solitary animals viewing other cats with suspicion, even fear. Although feral cats can live in quite large colonies those within are always related through the dominant female. Male off-spring are driven off and there will be conflict with other family groups. Cats are unlike primates who have developed negotiating skills, and cannot sustain a large number of friendly relationships or forge alliances with other cats.

Cats can be ferocious, are well armed and a tiff can quickly escalate into a dangerous fight. They have become adept at assessing moods and intentions. A domestic cat will signal to another cat by raising its tail straight-up. If the other cat wants to be approached it will also raise its tail. This signal is unique to an adult domestic cat, an adult wild cat never raises their tail, although a wild kitten will raise their tail to attract their mother. Tail-raising will be followed by the rubbing of heads, flanks or sometimes tails and then a session of mutual grooming which cements the relationship.

Cats are unlike dogs and are born with no natural attachment to people. A kitten handled regularly between four and eight weeks will develop a powerful attraction to humans. If there is no contact before ten weeks then the animal will nearly always fear people. This has led to the accusation that cats fool people with faux displays of affection to get food and shelter. But, humans feel affection for cats, and scientist know cats feel affection for other cats. Therefore, it is highly probable that a cat can feel affection for a person.

Purring is not necessarily a sign of attachment. A cat can purr when it is contented, hungry or mildly anxious. They have been known to purr when they are in distress and “moments before death”. It is an “manipulative sign, please settle down beside me”.

Relationships between cats consists of much licking and rubbing. When a cat licks its owner it is a good sign of basic affection. When they jump up and invite people to stroke them it is part of a social ritual intending to create a bond with the person who strokes them. Rubbing against a leg is less intense and can be done for mere personal enjoyment.

While all cats can meow, wild cats are silent and one cat never meows to another cat. When a cat meows at its owner it is possible for them to develop an individual language through which they can communicate. So, as cats and humans can communicate and express underlying emotions there can be mutual affection if not a full blown friendship.

(Source. “New Scientist”. Vol:219 No:2934. 14/9/13 ” More than a feline” pp 44-47. John Bradshaw).

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